Report: SFPD staffing level shouldn’t be based on population

A new report on police staffing levels appears to fly in the face of a Board of Supervisors resolution passed last year that said the San Francisco Police Department should hire more officers to match The City’s growing population.

The Budget and Legislative Analyst report determined that if the Police Department’s staffing level is altered, then it should be based on the department’s workload demands, rather than based on an increase in San Francisco’s population.

“A minimum staffing level based on population is not considered a rigorous and analytical staffing method,” according to the report, published in late January at the request of Supervisor John Avalos.

The report contradicts a June 2015 resolution, which divided the board when introduced by supervisors Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen.

The resolution passed with a 6-5 vote, setting a goal that The City increase the minimum amount of police officers on the streets by 229 from 1,971 full-duty sworn officers as mandated in 1994 to 2,200 officers.

“Last year the resolution to base minimum staffing based on population was purely based on politics,” Avalos said. “It was just a big giant bone to the POA,” he said, referring to the Police Officers Association’s desire to increase staffing.

The resolution came amid an increase in property crime and was based on a City Controller’s survey that found San Francisco’s police staffing had declined by 3 percent, while The City’s population increased by 12 percent from 2004 to 2014.

The supervisors’ resolution proposed SFPD increase its minimum staffing level by 13.3 percent to match San Francisco’s population growth between 1994 and 2014.

But the latest analysis notes that “it is not clear” the 1994 mandated minimum was set based on population.

“Therefore, a percentage increase in the staffing level based on a change in population might not be an equivalent increase,” the report reads.

The report recommends The City consider changing the SFPD staffing level based on one of three methods used by experts across the nation other than the minimum staffing level approach used at present.

“The Board should request that any changes made to the minimum staffing level should be based on a workload-based assessment that accounts for department-specific conditions, as well as a comprehensive examination of historical workload data,” the report reads.

That means the Police Department would measure its computer-aided dispatch records against policy decisions like desired response times and the amount of officers on duty at peak hours to determine the needed staffing level, the report says.

SFPD has reached its mandated minimum staffing level only once since 1994, according to the report. In August of last year the department had about 252 fewer officers than the 1,971 mandated.

“There’s no point in increasing the size of the Police Department until we see how The City is able to sustain itself at the 1,971 level,” Avalos said. But if it’s going to be changed, “I think that what the Budget and Legislative Analyst report shows is that a work-based approach is one that we should use here in San Francisco.”

Avalos plans to present the report at an upcoming board committee hearing in the next couple weeks alongside a companion resolution.

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